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Amol Rajan: A British politics of national greatness

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 04:43 pm
David Brooks argues that Americans have lost some of the optimism for which they were famed. He says the rise of China accentuates their sense that they have largely abandoned an enterprising spirit and energising culture that marked them out from competitors.

He is basically right. Americans are feeling down. And, six months from an election, there are lessons in that for us.

Every time a recession comes round, politicians vie to offer the best programme for recovery and, further, renewal. (It's in this context, incidentally, that one of Khrushchev's best lines should be seen: "Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge where there is no river").

English and American culture are very different, of course. Crudely speaking, the English are in awe of customs, and Americans are in awe of creeds. We don't have the same intrinsic futurism, what Brooks calls an "eschatological faith in the future".

Similarly, it would be preposterous to say of the English that they "probably postponed gratification because they thought the future was a big rock-candy mountain, and if they were stealing from that, they were robbing themselves of something stupendous". But coming from Brooks, talking about America, that seems reasonable.

And yet, despite these massive cultural differences, the national mood in Britain unites us with the US in three ways. First, we think of ourselves as part of the West; second, we feel our government is not bankrupt but certainly broke; and third, these two factors combine to create a sense of national decline. We all expect that this will be the Asian century, a time of geopolitical rebalancing. And both the American and British public expect their domestic economic recoveries to be slow and fragile.

One of the reasons Americans elected Barack Obama is because he made them feel good about their country. That is no bad thing for a leader seeking office to generate. What Obama did, broadly speaking, was resurrect a politics of national greatness, originally mooted by conservatives disgruntled with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, which seemed to inspire resistance to the narrative of American decline.

Funnily enough, it was Brooks and Bill Kristol who gave an outline of what a politics of national greatness might look like, in an article for the Wall Street Journal in 1997. George Packer explained it intelligently in the New Yorker.

A British politics of national greatness would sit uncomfortably with some sections of the electorate, and might lead to accusations that parties were trying to steal a march on the BNP. But what the British people are aching for is a bit of inspiration, someone to come along and explain what Britain has to look forward to. That alone, in my view, makes the demand for 'change' at the next election irresistible.

A politics of national greatness is probably not the sort of phrase you'd see on briefing papers put around by the any of the main parties, even the Tories. But what Brooks identifies as the problem in America - a sense of terminal decay, in need of reversal - is precisely the sentiment in Britain. What we need here is a political force that can convince us the 2010s will be a decade of British renewal. It will be hard for a man elected to parliament in 1983 to do that.


And now Rajan is using
reinertorheit wrote:
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 07:04 pm (UTC)

that neocon Zionist scumbag Bill Kristoll as some kind of role model???



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